Helping Your Child Develop a Strong Sense of Self

This guest post is part of a four-part series addressing body image, family feeding, and eating disorders. Catch up on “Tips for Raising Body Positive Kids” and “Love [yourself] Like a Mother” and stay tuned as we share more.

In the 11 years, I’ve been working with clients with eating disorders (ED), one factor seems to be consistent: most of my clients with ED don’t have a very strong sense of self. They don’t believe that they are worthy, good, or enough. In the absence of knowing who they are and believing that they have a place in the world, the eating disorder becomes their identity.

I think a key part of ED prevention means helping kids develop a strong sense of themselves.

In the 1999 film, Runaway Bride, there’s a scene in which Richard Gere’s character presents Julia Roberts’ character with several plates of eggs prepared in different ways, so that she can choose which one she likes best. The eggs are a symbol of her lack of sense of self, as she has always liked whatever type of eggs her fiancés have liked. Gere’s challenge to her is to take the first step to figure out who she is as a person, by picking what she likes, rather than deferring to others. I think this typifies one definition of identity, which is that a central part of our understanding of ourselves includes things that we like, that we believe, and that we are passionate about.

Helping our children develop a confident identity includes empowering them to make their own decisions.

Yes, it is our job to keep our children safe, but by presenting them with developmentally appropriate choices, we teach them their opinions matters. It can be so tempting to override our children’s decisions, but when we do that too often, we undermine their ability to know their own mind. That doesn’t mean that they get to do whatever they want to do. It means that our job is to look for opportunities when it’s appropriate for them to choose and then to back off. It means not always answering their questions immediately, but encouraging them to figure things out for themselves. It means not focusing as much on what they achieve, but rather what they learned in the experience.

I also think it’s important to cultivate your child’s interests. That doesn’t mean that they have to be participating in 500 activities. We live in a world that is over-programmed and we don’t give enough attention to rest and just being. But when your child shows a particular interest in something, help them pursue it. That is their little self developing and seeking to understand their world. Cultivate their curiosity. Let them try one activity one year, and a completely different one the next. They don’t need to be the best at anything; they need the chance to figure out what they enjoy and where their talents lie. Let them try things that you may know nothing about. Resist the urge to make them into a “mini-me,” but rather encourage them to become who THEY are meant to be.

I don’t pretend to be an expert in parenting; my own daughter is only one. But I am already striving to cultivate the natural characteristics that I see in her, without putting too much pressure on her to only be what I see. She is very active: maybe she’ll be an athlete, but only if that’s what she is interested in. I hope that I can get out of her way and let her become a confident, strong woman who knows that she is the sum of all the little parts of her self. And that those parts are ENOUGH.

Stay tuned as we share more, in this four-part series, about body image, family feeding, and eating disorders.

Family Feeding, Nutrition, Eating Disorders, and Body Image Resources:

Online Resources:
Ellyn Satter Institute –
Southern Smash –
McCall Dempsey –
Sunny Side Up Nutrition –
Mealtime Hostage –
Our Mom’s Tribe Facebook Group, Local Therapist Renee Avis, LPC
National Eating Disorders Association –

Your Child’s Weight, Helping Without Harming by Ellyn Satter
Love Me, Feed Me by Katja Rowell
Born to Eat by Leslie Schilling and Wendy Jo Peterson
Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating, by Katja Rowell and Jenny McGlothlin
Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
Health at Every Size and Body Respect  by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor
Celebrate Your Body – and It’s Changes, too by Sophia Renee Taylor

Local Eating Concerns and Body Image Providers for Kids and/or Teens:
Renee Avis, LPC (10+)
CAS Counseling (11+)
Meredith Delbridge, LPC (12+)
Meredith Kolk-Tomberlin, LCSW (all ages) – Silber Psychological Services
Mosaic Comprehensive Care (Medical Primary Care) (14+)
Lutz, Alexander & Assoc. Nutrition Therapy (all ages) 
Laurea Glusman McAllister, LCSW (15+)
Christy Rogers, LCSW (14+)
Kate Sutton, LPC (12+)
Sandra Wartski, PsyD. (all ages) – Silber Psychological Services

Local Eating Disorder Treatment Facilities:
Veritas Collaborative (children and adults)
Carolina House (adults)

Let’s Make Our Children’s Schools Free of Diet Talk 

Preventing Obesity and Eating Disorders in Adolescents 

Laurea Glusman McAllister

Laurea Glusman McAllister lives in the Holly Springs, NC area with her husband and daughter, and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who practices in Raleigh. She specializes in relationship issues, life transitions, spiritual issues, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, women’s issues, and recovery from trauma or abuse. She earned her Master of Social Work from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and her Master of Divinity from Duke University. She is a Certified Eating Disorders Specialist. In addition to her passion for helping clients recover from eating disorders, she has a special interest in theology and gender studies. She recognizes that faith and spirituality are sometimes core to one’s identity, and may be at the heart of the challenges clients are facing. Laurea enjoys integrating that discussion into therapy, when a client is interested in that work. You can learn more about her practice at

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